The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization birthed in 1920 in Geneva, Switzerland as a result of the European powers that were seeking to maintain world peace. It was formed right after the World War 1 in a bid to avert any future situations that would cause the death and destruction of so many people and property again. This paper is a look at its general organization and why I think that it did not have a chance.
One of the primary goals of the League of Nations was to ensure that the state of peace in the nations was going to be maintained by the collective disarmament of the nations as well as implementing security measures throughout the nations involved. Furthermore, the LN was formed together with the International Labor Organization, which meant that labor issues and outcries were also art of the agenda of its formation. Labor matters such as the treatments of native inhabitants of countries, arms trading, human trafficking, global health and sanitation issues as well as the protection of minority groups in Europe was one of international organization. It was expected to use the legal methods of negotiation and arbitration in order to ensure that these goals were met. It is important to note that the organization had a membership of 58 countries at the height of its success between 1934 and 1935.
Despite the goals of the League of Nations being exceptionally good and favoring the largest number of the issues that the inhabitants of Europe and the world faced at the time, there was one problem with the organization That is the issue of enforcement. Unlike the member states that were there, this organization lacked any means of enforcement of its decisions in the member states. This meant that the ability of the LN to enforce its decisions on member countries, especially in the case of disarmament that was the main area of concern, was tough.
The League of Nations was at many instances referred to as the toothless bulldog because of this phenomenon. The dependence on the Great Powers that were at the time, namely Britain and Germany among others, caused the League of Nations to be easily manipulated against the objective application of its purpose and goals. It usually depended on this powers for the enactment of economic sanctions against countries and the provision of an armed forced when required. It is, however, notable that since the inception of diplomacy, countries had put their interests ahead of international law obligations which at the time were not strictly enforced. As such, this dependence was often hampered because the interests of the League were not always aligned to the interests of the Great Powers. Thus, the League at times would end up with no army to enforce their decisions, or powers to assert their sanctions against errant member states. This is because the Great Powers would measure the enactment of League sanctions against interests of the member states and decide not to comply with them.
A number of leaders in fact openly stated the powerlessness of the League of Nations, especially when the League accused Italian soldiers of targeting medical camps during the fighting of their wars. Mussolini stated that the League was always there to note the small things that were not important but could not prevent the bigger issues that were more important using the allegory of the chirpings of sparrows and the fallout of eagles. This was a foretelling of the role of the League of Nations in the World War 2.
The League, after a few successes but most failures, was unable to keep the powers that were from falling out and withdrawal begun with Germany, who saw themselves as the oppressed states within the League, followed by the rest of what formed the Axis powers of the Second World War. Countries such as Italy, Spain and Japan fell out with the League and went on to continue with their activities without the interference of the League.
Background and Development of the League
The development of the League of Nations came about from talks from the 18th century concerning the devastating effects of war on general economies and the civilian population. These concerns were raised and the need to maintain world peace was echoed in different situations in the world as at that time. The effects of industrialization on the economies of countries were ravaged by war as many of the wars targeted strategic industrial plants in the enemy countries as a war of weakening the countrys economic stability and eventually prevail over them in war. Furthermore, recruitment of the civilian population to war meant that there was increased causalities in the times of war and the increase in the number of widows and orphans after the time of the war. In addition, times after the war meant that there was increased poverty because of the economic situation, and poor living conditions as a result of the effects of the destruction of the wars. Entire cities would be destroyed and the start of an economy after the war usually was built from scratch.
As such, world leaders of the time saw it fit to institute an organization that would ensure that world peace was maintained, having noted the importance of peace to the growth and stability of the world economy. Furthermore, countries no longer had colonies that were supporting them as agitation for independence had begun in the colonies in Africa. This meant that the Europeans were beginning to realize that they would eventually fight their wars. This would mean greater expense and less manpower to spend on the war. As a result, the League of Nations was born. It investigated all possible causes of the First World War very intensively and sought to seal every sort of reason and make the First World War the war that would end all other wars.
The idea to make a body for such a purpose begun in the United States and the UK long before the start of the first world war in a bid to end disaster that would be brought about by the effects of war as was witnessed in the American Civil War and other wars that the two countries had participated in. Efforts of the British and the French were spearheaded by the various leading actors in the country as early as 1918. However, the efforts were only at the national level and didnt involve members from other parties. Meanwhile, the causes of the First World War continued to set countries at unease of each other. Strategic alliances had been formed to shield against the attack of one nation on another. As the arms race continued, militaristic nationalism also gained ground in European countries with the rise of leaders such as the Italian Mussolini. Secret diplomacy was also a factor to consider in these times as the countries communicated secretly to each other. Such an example was the interception of the message to send a missile to destroy Cuba. This brought a lot of agitation to the countries involved in the alliances as the signs of a war was apparent.
After that, the need for the organization was seen and the Paris Conference of 1920 (right after World War 1) established the League of Nations which operated in the European languages of Spanish, English and French. It is fascinating to note that even at the inception of the League, there was a controversy on whether to adopt French or English as the official language of the League. Selfish interests were already taken into account during this period.
Why the League of Nations would never have been successful
In my opinion, the league would not have been successful even if everything went wrong because of the reasons that I will highlight in this part including a lack of coordination of the nations involved in it, the inability of the League to independently enforce its decisions on errant member states, the lack of proper authority of the League on member states and a lack of strong leadership within the League.
The coordination of the nations within the League was tough for the leadership of the League to have. Apart from the constant wrangles that were present there at the beginning of its formation concerning the language to use, the League couldnt effectively control the actions of member states. National interests often overrode the influence of the league in many decisions. For example, the nations continued with the arms race that led to the Second World War despite the existence of the League, because the League was unable to ensure that the member states could stop making more weapons. Some of the member states further saw that the judgments of the League were biased against them because of the Leagues reliance on the manpower of the Great Powers. As such, those states saw this as a point of influence and the body became a biased organization in the eyes of member states leading to the withdrawal of Axis powers.
This inability to become independent from the controlling powers meant that the League couldnt adequately and efficiently do its bidding. The lack of manpower and armed forces within its reach meant that even when the League made a decision on something, especially on the matter of arms races, this decision could easily be ignored by the member states because the League could do nothing to ensure that the order was followed.
As such, the League failed to exercise proper authority over member states. The League was further unable to ensure that the member states could avoid the situations that were the goals and purpose of its formation. This ended up in the withdrawal of the Axis powers that eventually put the show that was the Second World War on the road. The League could not stop the arms race because of the withdrawal of this parties as this posed a direct threat to the Allies and they had to respond accordingly.
Finally, consideration is made on the leadership of the League. It was feeble because when most of the signatory nations withdrew from the Pact that formed it, they passed a motion for the dissolution of the League of Nations. This eventually led to the chaos that caused the eruption of the Second World War. This seems to say that from the beginning, the leadership of the League of Nations was weak and didnt intend to oversee its mandate of ensuring that world peace was no longer jeopardized. Nonetheless, the place of the League of Nations in stopping the World War 2 would be minimal because the League had already become powerless momentarily after becoming a world organization.
In my opinion, the League of Nations had good intentions when it was starting. However, with the lack of qualified organization to oversee the goals that it had in mind ensured that this organization couldnt go on for too long without failing. The nations that were signatory to it exercised too much influence over its affairs. Such influences were noted by other countries as discriminatory something that eventually led to their withdrawal. Without the actual power to ensure that its resolutions would be enforced, the League was at a place of dependence, which led to manipulation. After the powers that were sawed that it had served its purpose, they left the League to service its needs and pursued national interests. The League was thus destined for failure.
Baer, George. Test Case: Italy, Ethiopia, and the League of Nations. New York: Hoover Institution Press. 1976
Bell, P.M.H. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Pearson Education Limited. 2007
Burkman, Thomas. "Japan and the League of Nations: an Asian power encounters the European Club." World Affairs. 1998
Clive, A. International Organizations. New York: Routledge. 2001
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